By day, Bemidji high school senior Jaxon Anderson is a lot like Peter Parker, an awkward coming-of-age teen who wants to be everyone’s hero. When he puts on the mask, however, Anderson becomes the Amazing Spider-Man.
And when you’re Spider-Man, the traditional senior photo shoot just isn’t going to cut it.
Anderson swapped the cheesy backgrounds and subpar lighting for a dramatic movie set-style photo shoot as Spider-Man in downtown Bemidji. He perched atop building ledges as the sun set, swung from light poles and even nabbed an upside-down kiss from a Mary Jane look-alike.
“I was struggling with what to do for senior photos and knew this would make me stand out and help me be myself,” Anderson said. “I love superheroes. I guess I’m just really geeky in that way.”
Spidey’s pics are just the latest in a trend that some people are calling extreme senior portraits. These highly produced and often high-dollar photo sessions include destination portrait sessions, professional makeup artists and more.
“Everyone wants to do something outside of the box,” said Megan Engeseth of Megan Engeseth Photography, a St. Paul studio that specializes in creative and high-concept senior portraits. “It’s a totally different thing even from five years ago. Thanks to Instagram, it’s quite a production.”
High school seniors no longer want to graduate with a cookie-cutter yearbook picture as their legacy. While most still take the traditional headshot required by Mom and Dad (and the yearbook staff), they want the rest of their photos to reflect their true personalities. And they want the photo shoot experience to make them feel like a celebrity — or superhero — for a day.
The goal for many seniors — especially the girls — is to end up with an impressive set of pictures to be shared and “liked” on social media. With millions of images circulating on Pinterest and Instagram, the bar is high.
“You see these incredible photos everywhere on the internet, and you want something really unique and different from everyone else,” said Mady Johnston, a senior at St. Croix Central High School in Hammond, Wis.
Photographers are taking note of these new expectations and are going to elaborate lengths to create unforgettable moments for their clients.
Minneapolis photographer Lisa Slotsve lay in the snow to capture a skier’s jumps and went hiking at Taylors Falls to photograph an avid hiker. Some clients go the distance, too. One of Slotsve’s seniors traveled to Paris to buy outfits for her session.
Engeseth offers a “boutique experience,” devoting 20 to 25 hours of total time to each senior. Most clients spend anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. She’s photographed seniors underwater, on horseback and in a mansion for the ultimate “Downton Abbey” photo shoot.
“This generation realizes that the perfect, curated lives that surround them on social media are not authentic,” Engeseth said. “Instead of being the kid who leans against the tree, they want something that will authentically define them and still stand out.”
Johnston, who was Miss Hammond in 2015, opted for an editorial, high-fashion photo shoot with professional hair and makeup. She wore an art-deco pageant dress on the steps of a vine-covered historic building in Hudson, Wis. She also wore a pair of distressed denim jeans and a crop top for some candid shots in a field of wildflowers near Woodbury.
“I can’t believe that was me in those photographs,” she said.“ I want people to look at them and say, ‘Wow, those are incredible photos.’ ”
Anderson came up with his Spider-Man concept to honor his love for his favorite superhero, but Bemidji photographer Misty Malterud brought it to life. She owns Misty Moments Photography, which specializes in original senior portraits that feature teens’ personalities.
“My focus is to capture who they are as individuals and where they are at this time in their lives,” she said. “With social media, these kids feel like they get drowned out. They just want to be seen and heard for who they are.”
It wasn’t until Anderson found his passion for show choir and theater that he came out of his shell, said his mom, Kristen Anderson.
“He never went out with friends, and now he’s getting lead roles in the school musicals,” she said. “I am so incredibly proud of him that he just owns who he is.”
With a new $200 Spidey suit, Anderson descended on downtown Bemidji to re-create famous Spider-Man scenes. He scaled glass walls, shot webs while airborne in an alley and stretched out on a grain bin at a local mill where his grandfather has worked for nearly 40 years.
When Malterud shared a selection of the photos on Facebook, one person said: “These are the best senior pictures I have ever seen.”
Malterud has helped student athletes create Olympian-inspired photos to capture their strength and determination. She also set up a Netflix-inspired concept shoot for a girl who said she was really into napping and watching TV and eating junk food.
But what do most kids want? Vintage and boho-style photos are popular, and last year, Malterud got a lot of requests from girls who wanted to be photographed wearing cowboy boots in front of a barn.
“I asked them, ‘Have you ever worn cowboy boots before?’ ” she said. “If not, I try to sway them in a different direction.”
Trends come and go, but Malterud said the most important part of senior photos is to be true to yourself — Netflix and superheroes included.